A hallucinatory novella about an enormous Cossack family endlessly at odds with one other.
Linguistically intriguing but hard to follow, this work by Russian writer Otroshenko is an absurdist comedy about the ties that bind a family together, the nebulous relationships between fathers and sons, and the ghosts we capture in family photographs. The book has been carefully translated by Hayden, who contributes an introduction and an interview with the author and even reads the audio version. The story concerns a large Cossack family living under the thumb of Soviet Russia sometime in the early part of the 20th century. Malach Mandrykin is nominally the patriarch, although the question of paternity is one of the central plot points. When Malach marches off to fight in World War I, his wife, Annushka, has an affair with a mysterious, flamboyant figure known only as the Greek—"an incomparable artiste, a fabulously rich man, the owner of three circuses in China, and a sorcerer and seer besides." From this union is born “Uncle Semyon,” who grows up to be a strange, cranky bloke with fabulously ornate side whiskers who is prone to uttering loquacious speeches and the occasional prophecy. Much of the humor and drama of watching this clan of misfits unfold during the taking of the annual family portrait. Otroshenko is clearly playing with identity and point of view, admitting to Hayden in an introductory interview that not only is the narrator unreliable—“a mirage-like figure”—but also that it’s impossible to tell whether the story is being told by a nephew to this impossible number of uncles, by Uncle Semyon himself or by our mysterious Greek. Readers who enjoy the juxtaposition of comedy and tragedy in Russian literature may be intrigued, but others are likely to be simply confused.
A deeply strange novel that reads like a Chekhov play inspired by the comedy stylings of Monty Python.